The Revelation of John

An invitation to understand John’s revelation

Book of Revelation

The Revelation of John is perhaps the most interesting, varied book in the Bible. With much poetry, several songs, and vivid cyclical word pictures, it is unparalleled. The scope of its descriptions and metaphors runs the gamut.

John receiving revelation

It starts with a heavenly vision of Jesus Christ in glory surrounded by crowned elders and winged beasts full of eyes. It then descends into scenes with red dragons, a drunken prostitute, seven-headed monsters, plagues, storms, and destruction. We meet angel armies, deadly horsemen, giant locusts with scorpions’ tails, final judgment, and blood flowing as deep as a river.

We also see the New Jerusalem shining with welcoming gates of giant pearls, walls of precious stones, and streets of gold. It is the Star Wars of the Bible—with conflict between good and evil spanning the cosmos and all time.

John receiving revelation

The book is often referred to as the Apocalypse of John. An apocalypse was a common form of Jewish and Christian literature in John’s day. Many were written, but the Apocalypse of John is the only one that became part of the scriptural canon. Most apocalypses were dualistic works written to reveal how the world’s overwhelming evils fit into God’s plan of happiness. They were written to reconcile the existence of sin and adversity with the goodness and omnipotence of God. They show how human history will resolve in God’s favour.

The book of Revelation is easily the finest of these works. It richly deserves its place as the final book in the New Testament. It demonstrates that God’s justice and righteousness will prevail. Far from being a book centred on evil, adversity, judgment, and destruction, it is about hope and God’s love.

Jesus overlooking jerusalem

This book is commonly regarded as “difficult”

The text of the book has had a persistent and far-reaching political, theological, and historical effect in Western Civilization. It has played a prominent role in graphic arts, music, and literature as well. It was almost not included in the Bible. It got into the New Testament by the skin of its dragons’ teeth.

Many of the churchmen in the early Church did not want it included. Later theologians often expressed the wish that it had been excluded. Some Christian churches just ignore it. This is understandable, for it has had more nonsense written and said about it than any other book in the Bible.

Studying scriptures

A book with such variety and influence has drawn much commentary, wide-ranging interpretations, and much contention over the years. There are parts of it (chapter 13) that Joseph Smith told the missionaries in his time to stop teaching. It was causing contention and confusion rather than conversion and light, but he also said:

The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written”


I sincerely believe that to be the case. It is unlikely that John started a book with the Greek word apocalypse—meaning an unveiling disclosing revelation, and then set out to mystify and confuse. John wrote it to be understood by the members of his day. He sent it as a letter to seven of the churches that he supervised responding to their deficits and needs, which he detailed in the first three chapters. A careful study of their problems will illuminate why John revealed what he did to them.

Joseph Smith teaching

Possible ways to study the book of Revelation

Every age has had the same problems that were being experienced by those churches in that time and place. This book does have something to say to every age as we liken the scriptures to ourselves.

There are four general approaches to Revelation in Christian commentaries:

  1. The preterist approaches the book in its 1st century AD setting and sees most of the events mentioned in it as having occurred in John’s day with the exception of the Second Coming vision at the end.

  2. The historicist approaches the book as describing a chain of events in history that extends from John’s day to the Second Coming. These readers see the book as an outline of world history.

  3. The futurist approaches the book as a coded, mysterious message for the end times alone. In this view, almost all the visions have yet to happen and are associated with the last days just before Jesus returns.

  4. The idealist approaches the book as symbolic of the timeless struggle between good and evil. For these readers the battles and struggles can be ongoing in any individual’s heart as human moral agency struggles against the evil within every person in a fallen world.

Map of Mediteranean

We need not confine ourselves to any one of these ways of thinking. However, as we ponder the book of Revelation and hear/read someone else’s interpretation or come to our own conclusions, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Does what I have concluded on this subject bring me peace?

  • Has it deepened my faith in Christ?

  • Does it make sense to my mind and to my heart?

  • Have I been enlightened, with things made clearer, by this interpretation?

  • Is it in harmony with the scriptures, the apostles, and prophets?

  • Is it in harmony with what I have already come to know of God and of His Son?

  • Would it make me a better disciple of Jesus and help me to follow Him, if I acted according to my conclusions?

Positive answers to most of those questions would be evidence of the Spirit acting as our guide in helping us to understand John’s writings. As Peter noted:

No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

In pondering John’s visions, only the Holy Ghost can tell us what there is in it that we need as individuals or families as we come to follow Jesus in the vivid visions of John the Revelator.